How to develop a great diversity scheme

16 July 2019 -

Coral reefHaving a diverse team has many benefits, but how can managers help to create a more inclusive workforce?

In the workplace, it’s our differences that are our strengths. A variety of experiences and backgrounds provide what Scott E. Page dubs a 'diversity bonus', writing that "industry-level analysis suggests that racial diversity improves performance when workers solve problems [and] think creatively."

While almost 13% of the UK’s population is from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, they hold just 6% of top management positions, according to CMI’s Delivering Diversity report. Closing this gap is an urgent challenge and a major opportunity, which could potentially add an annual £24bn to the country’s economy.

What steps can individual managers take to improve upon these statistics? How can we all work towards creating a successful and effective diversity scheme?

1. A diversity audit

To become truly diverse, identify your current levels of diversity and how these differences affect your team. While some characteristics, such as ethnic origin and gender, are usually readily apparent, there are some areas, such as religion and sexual orientation, that are not immediately obvious. Plan and conduct a diversity audit to gauge existing levels of diversity, while respecting your colleagues’ right to not disclose. When these statistics are ready, you can see which areas need bolstering and which viewpoints are underrepresented.

2. A vision for diversity

Without a purpose or goal, any actions you take to increase diversity may be uncoordinated or even contradictory. A core of guiding principles will help make diversity programmes actionable and cohesive. Relate the vision to your organisation's overall mission statements or other organisational initiatives, as well as government targets. Ensure that all goals are specific and achievable, and that your vision does not encourage an “us” and “them” mentality. Inclusivity is the backbone of diversity.

3. Diversity champions

Select people from your team and the wider organisation who can really drive the changes required. Think carefully about who to choose as your diversity champions: there need to be enough junior staff on board to ensure that changes are actionable and realistic, but enough senior managers able to make diversity management both a reality and a strategic priority. You’ll need to show them the business and social cases for a diversity initiative.

4. Diversity training

Your training budget may be tight, but diversity workshops can ensure that employees are able to turn good intentions into practical action. Training is particularly important for the managers make decisions that affect diversity. The aim of any diversity training should be to celebrate differences, not just comply with legal frameworks. In the future, diversity training could be incorporated into induction procedures, so that all employees are clear that it is a priority for the organisation from the start of their employment.

5. Review of practices, procedures and policies

Take a look at your current processes and identify where they have the possibility to exclude groups of people. For example, does your place of work offer unpaid internships? These are often only accessible to those who can afford to work for free so are they excluding those from poorer backgrounds? Refreshing policies and procedures should focus not only on attracting and retaining a diverse group of employees, but also on being inclusive. That means making a commitment to providing all employees with challenging work, development opportunities and ownership of their specific jobs. You may also want to conduct surveys and create focus groups to gauge employee opinions and give staff a means to express their thoughts and concerns.

6. Employee networks

These are an excellent way of connecting employees from particular groups or backgrounds and giving them a part to play in creating diversity strategies. Common network groups include those aimed at women, ethnic minorities and individuals who identify as LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). To develop effective networks, be clear about why they are needed, what their purposes are, and what contributions they will make to promoting a positive and inclusive workplace. This doesn’t mean that managers should control the network: they usually work better if a “bottom-up” approach is taken, with managers working in a supportive rather than directive role.

7. Mentoring scheme

These schemes can improve talent management within certain groups, helping employees identify and work towards their career goals. Consider whether mentors can be sourced from within the organisation, or whether participation in an external mentoring scheme is needed. Which tiers of management are underrepresented by minority groups? Who can become a mentor to promote a diverse management team from these candidates?

For more advice on creating an effective programme, read CMI’s Managing for Diversity checklist.

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